In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Some Personal Reflections on John Lukacs and The Future of History
  • Richard M. Gamble (bio)

John Lukacs, the Hungarian-Born American Historian, is probably best known to American readers as the author of several books dealing with Churchill, Hitler, and Stalin and those critical days in 1940 and 1941 when the outcome of the Second World War was very much in doubt. Less well known is Lukacs's historical philosophy. This is most unfortunate, because he has many important things to say about such matters. His historical philosophy is built around several overlapping notions. These include an understanding of history as a form of thought, the utterly critical emergence of historical consciousness bringing with it the intrusion of minds into the structure of events, the historicity of all knowledge, and the remembered past. Lukacs also has much to say about history's place in the Western intellectual tradition, especially in two rich volumes: Historical Consciousness; or, the Remembered Past (Harper & Row, 1968) and the more accessible At the End of an Age (Yale University Press, 2002).

Now this master historian has written what could be his most important book, The Future of History (Yale University Press, 2011). In it, Lukacs revisits some familiar themes, particularly the necessarily literary nature of history and the further development of historical consciousness. But this is not just another stab at articulating Lukacs's historical philosophy; it is essentially a book-length critique of the discipline of history. He contends that a historical profession fixated on "historianship" and prone to intellectual fads is in a state of disarray. It is a book that perhaps only John Lukacs could write, saturated as it is by the scholarly sensibilities of a bourgeois age that, as he has frequently argued, has already ended.

To help readers assess the importance of The Future of History, we asked three historians to read and comment on the book: Richard M. Gamble, Stanley G. Payne, and Timothy Snyder.

As a young graduate student at the University of South Carolina in the late 1980s I purchased a used paperback copy of John Lukacs's Historical Consciousness. I do not remember now how familiar I was with the author's name or why exactly the book attracted me. But through this book and many others to follow over the next quarter century, Professor Lukacs became one of my most formative teachers. In more ways than I probably recognize, he has shaped how I think and talk about history, how I practice the historian's craft, and the habits of mind I seek to cultivate in my own students. Along with a handful of other teachers, he participates in an ongoing conversation in my head about what it is that makes history history. Now in The Future of History—the harvest of a lifetime of reading, writing, teaching, and meditating on history—this master practitioner of our craft has given me the double privilege of recalling what he has taught me over the years and the chance to learn new things from a scholar who himself has never stopped learning. I am grateful for the opportunity presented by the publication of what Lukacs modestly calls his "little book" to consider a few of his enduring contributions to historical understanding. These are personal reflections. I do not presume to speak for my fellow historians. But I trust my intuition is right that many of them share my indebtedness to our colleague's lifework.

Here and elsewhere, Lukacs repeatedly draws our attention to language's centrality to what we do. His meticulous care with words is unmistakable in his books, not just in the quality of his prose but in the way he deliberately foregrounds language to show how words help and hinder historians as they think about the past, how a vocabulary can become a "substitute for thought," and how the evolution of words across time can reveal otherwise hidden and changing textures in the past. He consults the Oxford English Dictionary often, but knows the English language well enough to spot when the OED is wrong. His sensitivity to language is contagious, and no alert reader of his books can fail to think along with...